The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Rules of Summer

Rules of Summer
Written and Illustrated by Shaun Tan
Published in 2014 by Arthur A. Levine Book
ISBN 978-0-545-63912-5
 
Grades preK-5
 
Book Review 
While birth order is often invisible in school, once the schedule-free days of summer come many children find themselves defined by whether they are “the big” or “the little.” In Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan brings us into an imaginary world of two brothers where stepping on a snail can cause a tornado or forgetting to close the back door can invite a host of unwelcome creatures into your living room. Driven by the complex relationship between siblings, Tan uses simple language coupled with multifarious images and associations to let us linger over what rules of summer count when it comes to childhood. We witness a little brother repeatedly left behind not quite remembering the rules he should. We also watch an older brother transform from the role of dictator to rescuer and perhaps even hero. Like his previous books The Arrival and Tales from Outer Suburbia, Tan captures our imaginations through his fantastical scenes that compel us to think about our own childhood fears, rivalries, and past hopes for redemption. Masterfully, Tan explores the duality of brotherhood—to love and to torment your sibling; to lead and to follow; to leave or to rescue. This book will bring some students to laugh out loud at the older brother’s triumphs and others to wonder whether they themselves will be let into the mysterious and wonder-filled rooms of their siblings down the hall. Sure to spark conversations about the rules that define their summers, Tan’s whimsical illustrations lend themselves to closely read again and again to find new ways of thinking about childhood, summer, family, and the unwritten rules we live by. 
 
Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:
 
Grades preK-5
 
Illustration Study. Shaun Tan uses whimsical landscapes that blend reality with fantasy that invite us to reread each page to better understand the scenes and the relationships between the two brothers. Support students to choose a favorite illustration to study more closely. What do they notice about the page? What’s happening to each of the characters? What questions do they have about what’s happening on the page? What colors are used and what impact do they have on how we feel about the scene? In what ways can they borrow some of Tan’s illustration techniques to make their own blends of reality and fantasy through writing and drawing?
 
Rules of Summer List Making. Consider with students why Tan made the purposeful decision of starting the narrative with what the little brother should never do and end with what the big brother should always do. What are the rules of summer that they think matter? Begin a class list of rules of summer. Allow students to share widely. Borrow from Tan’s technique of beginning with “Never ____” and “Always _____”. Notice the last page of the book with students and how the rules and imaginary scenes came out of the illustrations the boys had drawn that are hanging on their wall. Have students choose a rule to illustrate with a blending of reality and fantasy drawing from their own life.
 
Family Narratives. While fantasy dominates the landscape, the reality of family dynamics foregrounds each page to remind readers that this is ultimately a narrative about family. Support students to write and draw their own family narratives. What relationships matter to them most? In what ways can they construct a family narrative that explores the complexity of relationships that matter to them? What moments from their lives do they want to share? Support students to write and draw both real and/or fantastical scenes to craft their narratives.
 
Inference Building Through Internal Thinking. To support students to make inferences, draw attention to the kinds of internal thinking each of the boys may be experiencing based on the situation, their facial expressions, and their body language. Model and provide guided practice around select images from the book and then support students to choose pages to construct internal thinking sentences independently or in partnership. Have students share what they constructed with others and support them to explain their decision-making using text evidence.
 
Dialogue Construction. While dialogue is absent from the text itself, the situations presented throughout the text welcome dialogue. As with internal thinking, model and provide guided practice around select images from the book and then support students to choose pages to construct dialogue between the two brothers based on the situation they are in, where they are each standing, and what’s happening around them. Emphasize crafting lines of dialogue that sound the way siblings really speak. Have students share their lines of dialogue with one another while explaining their thinking about the language they chose. For upper elementary students, consider further supporting students with dialogue tags and proper rules for punctuation.
 
Author Study Text Set. Shaun Tan’s work is highly regarded for his masterful blend of fantasy and reality in works including The Red Tree and The Bird King. While many of his texts themselves are best suited for upper elementary classrooms, students of all ages will be able to notice similarities across the images. What style of illustration do they notice him using across his texts? When does he use color and when does the absence of color evoke an important feeling or message? Investigate Tan’s website to look at and consider what other kinds of media besides picture books he creates. Invite students to characterize his artistic style and to consider the messages he constructs for readers. In what ways does he question everyday experiences? How does he look at things in life in a new way across the media he uses?
 
Where The Wild Things Are Duet Model. Reminiscent of Max being sent to his room without dinner, we are reminded in Rules of Summer that rules are often arbitrary to children and a powerful imagination is often the best escape from a rule-driven world. Support students to consider how Shaun Tan may have drawn from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. In what ways are the boys similar to Max? In what ways are they different? Likewise, how are the landscapes that Sendak and Tan have created similar and how do they differ?
 
Critical Literacy
 
Power and Position.  This book provides a pathway for discussion about who makes the rules at home and in society. Have a conversation with students about who they sided with in the story. Was their decision based on their own position in their family? In what ways do they think they are powerful in their families? In what ways are they not? Who makes the rules? How can they use their voices to explain themselves if they disagree with a rule? What vehicles do members of society have for voicing disagreement with rules set forth by society or governing bodies?
 
Online Resources
 
Shaun Tan: Author’s Website
 
Shaun Tan’s Blog:
 
Boston Globe Horn-Book Honors Award Review
 
ABC Radio News Interview with Shaun Tan
 
Shaun Tan Talks About Rules of Summer and the Drawing Process
 
The Arrival YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAay4myoEDE
 
The Lost Thing: A Short Film by Shaun Tan (Academy Award Winner)
 
Books
 
Sendak, M. (1963). Where the wild things are. New York, NY: HarperCollins. 
 
Tan, S.  (2007). The arrivalNew York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books. 
 
Tan, S. (2009). Tales from outer suburbia. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books. 
 
Tan, S. (2010). The red tree. Melbourne, Australia: Lothian Children’s Books. 
 
Tan, S. (2010). The lost thingMelbourne, Australia: Lothian Children’s Books. 
 
Tan, S. (2013). The bird king: an artist’s notebookNew York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books. 
Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is an Associate Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.